For a few weeks now, Internet rumors have been flying about H.R. 875, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009. The bill, proposed in February by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) in response to the peanut/salmonella scare, would split the FDA into two agencies, one responsible for overseeing our national food supply and the other for drugs and devices. But an email (of the chock-full-of-exclamation-points variety) warns that Monsanto and other big aggers are behind the bill—and they want to use it to shut down every small-scale farm in the country, including your garden:
It is imperative that you look into this immediately and with extreme scrutiny as our heath and well-being are threatened!!! If this bill passes, you can say goodbye to organic produce, your Local Farmer’s market and very possibly, the GARDEN IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD!!!!!
It's not clear who's responsible for these emails, but they've been pretty well debunked by an assortment of folks. The basic consensus: The bill would not bring about the demise of your veggie patch, nor as, Factcheck.org points out, would it outlaw organic agriculture:
The e-mail above argues that DeLauro's bill "[e]ffectively criminalizes organic farming but doesn't actually use the word organic." We're not sure how exactly a bill would criminalize something it doesn't mention, but the e-mail is correct in that the word "organic" is nowhere to be found. Another Internet posting more alarmingly claims: "Bill will require organic farms to use specific fertilizers and poisonous insect sprays dictated by the newly formed agency to 'make sure there is no danger to the public food supply.' " But the quoted phrase isn't in this bill. Nor is there any mention of chemical versus organic fertilizers or "poisonous insect sprays," or, for that matter, pesticides in general.
When the Huffington Post spoke with Rep. DeLauro, she described the weird experience of watching her bill become the subject of what she describes as a "libertarian operation:"
"It was substantial and it wasn't just my office," DeLauro tells the Huffington Post. "All of my colleagues -- I have colleagues who come up to me on both sides of the aisle and they say to me, 'Rosa, what's this about 875?'"...The bill, it's argued, is being pushed quietly by big agribusiness, herbicide and pesticide behemoths such as Monsanto, who want to outlaw organic farming using backdoor food-safety rhetoric. The richest irony, for anyone who has followed DeLauro's career, is that she's as far from a friend of Monsanto as can be conjured.
"This notion that we're destroying backyard farms is absurd. It's ludicrous," she says. "I chair the agriculture subcommittee of appropriations. Why would I be putting farmers out of business?"
But you don't have to take her word for it. A bunch of consumer and food policy groups, including the Consumers Union, Food & Water Watch, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, have endorsed the bill. For a good summary of the false claims made about H.R. 875, check out the Daily Green's take.
Phew, check that threat to my tomato plants off the list. Too bad they still have to worry about my own negligence.